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How To Buy A Business Laptop

Lesson learned, don’t always go for the latest laptop with the fastest processor, most memory, and biggest screen.   Not that those traits are BAD things to look for.  Making a decision to purchased based on those metrics cross-referenced with the price IS a bad way to buy a laptop.  At least if that laptop is your primary computer, which it is for most of us, and DEFINITELY the wrong way to shop when it is your primary BUSINESS and personal computer.  I admit, I was foolish in how I bought my most recent laptops.  Not just once, but TWICE.    Shame on me.   Luckily I’ve learned my lesson and am sharing that lesson here with you so that you may avoid the same pitfalls and maybe short-circuit your buying research and save a few hours in your day.

Mistake #1: Sony Vaio VGN-AR890U

The first laptop I purchased in a very long time, just over 2 years ago now, was a Sony Vaio.    I knew what features I wanted, a big screen (17″+) with true high definition and a fast CPU.    I wanted to be able to replace my desktop tower that handled HD video editing of my then-2-years-old son with aplomb.   An hour of video rendered, fully edited, in less than 30 minutes.    Not many laptops could do that, but I found a FEW that did.   The Sony Vaio was one of them.    It got rave reviews from the few people that actually purchased them as well as a LOT of editors at places like CNET that get plenty of advertising dollars from companies like Sony.     I figured it was a big company with a lot of resources and I was buying from Newegg, a well-known online retailer.   I even bought the extended 3-year warranty with accidental damage coverage.

Wow, was THAT a mistake.   This $4,000 high-end laptop had virtually NO accessories that make life more bearable with a highly mobile laptop.  No docking stations, no stands, and barely a backpack that would fit this 9-pound guerrilla.  I wound up with a generic Sony USB docking station, that never really worked right.   It NEVER supported the full HD resolution afforded by the HDMI connection even though it had DVI output.   It also never had properly updated drivers that would work with the 32-bit Vista OS that came with the system.     In addition, Sony made NO EFFORT to put forth ANY drivers beyond those initially released, which meant all the bugs, system crashes and other problems where there to stay.   (Interesting side note: The system touts 64-bit all over the place and 4GB of RAM, but ONLY Vista 32-bit is supported so 25% of the RAM is useless and NOTHING is executed 64-bit).

Then the pixels started dropping.   About a year and 1 month into service the pixels started dropping.  Some red, some white.  It was starting to look a bit like Christmas.  Every day.   Then the bad pixels decided to get together and form a band.    A little bad-pixel mosh-pit opened up in the top right quadrant of the screen in a very conspicuous space that you’d never even notice; about 1.5″ down from the top and 2″ in from the right edge.  Perfect.   Just before I sent the Sony out for service to fix the broken door latches and these bad pixels I swear they formed an outline of someone flipping me the bird.

Now came my first lesson in buying a laptop:  DO NOT BUY AN EXTENDED WARRANTY FROM SERVICENET.    After many painful hours on the phone with ServiceNet, which was the only extended warranty option offered because I bought this laptop from Newegg, we finally got an RMA number.   They told me to send in my laptop (sorry, no advanced replacement) and I’d get it back in about a week.  THREE WEEKS later it finally showed up.    We powered it on and it promptly decided to show the full screen with no dead pixels for about 30 seconds and then relegate the screen to a permanent cloak of darknesss, operating at about 25% of the lowest brightness setting.    You couldn’t even see the screen in a dark room.   What a joke.

Lesson #2: DO NOT BELIEVE ANYTHING SERVICENET TELLS YOU. We sent the laptop back in for repair AGAIN.    This time they told us it would be “a couple of weeks”.  By which they mean TWO AN A HALF MONTHS.    Guess they use a different calendar in that part of the country.    After countless calls where we would ask “where is our laptop” and getting a “parts are on order, but we WILL get this back to you next week” we finally gave up.   Then, suddenly, as if by some God-given miracle a beat-up box arrived with our old friend the Sony Vaio laptop inside.    We promptly erased the drive, installed Windows 7 64-bit (after all Sony didn’t support this thing with THEIR drivers), and it’s been running happily for about 5 weeks now.     (Another interesting side note:  Sony stopped selling & supporting this laptop after just 6-8 months on the market.   Good luck getting ANY support on this $4,000 “top-of-the-line-best-we-make” product from Sony).

Lesson #3: The “BIG BRANDS” (Sony) Are NO MORE Helpful Than Smaller Brands. After dealing with this debacle for almost a year I also learned the Sony really had no clue about their laptops.  The supposed “Vaio premium support” was no better than support for any $500 off-the-shelf Taiwanese computer.  They spoke English no better, provided just as horrible after-hours support, and knew nothing about the product.  The read the same cookie-cutter scripts & had us uninstall & re-install the drivers, operating system, power off for 5 minutes, and other routine technical support tricks.  When they finally decided the system was fubar they offered NO ASSISTANCE in getting it repaired.  They simply said “contact the place you bought it from”.   Great.  Nice job Sony.

Mistake #2: Asus G73JH

When I finally realized that there was no way around sending my Vaio out for repair for more than a week I knew I had no choice but to get a replacement laptop & load it up before sending out my Vaio.  This time I played it smart and went with a laptop that came WITH ITS OWN extended warranty & support.   After a bit of searching I found a company that touts its warranty coverage for laptops as “head and shoulders above the competition”.    They claim the fewest laptop defects of any manufacturer (a claim reinforced by their on-hold advertising while waiting for customer support for an RMA claim, how ironic!).      They also are the only company that comes with a 2-year factory warranty with accidental damage “out of the box”.      They do a great job marketing their customer service, their warranty, and their below-normal failure rates on their laptops.

Lesson #4: Don’t believe the marketing hype. Even though I read CONSUMER reviews and avoided any opinions written by paid editors or the company itself, Asus told a good story.  Most early consumer reviews were good.   The marketing hype was better.  I mean, here was a company that truly has fooled itself into believing it’s own hype.  They have GREAT warranties and GREAT support.    Woah, not so fast.     In the 48 hours we’ve been dealing with trying to get my dead screen serviced we’ve spent nearly 20 HOURS combined with two of us trying to hunt down a knowledgeable customer service rep.   My technical support ticket, now 30 hours old, has yet to receive a response of any kind.      This is starting to feel just like any other laptop manufacturer to me.

Lesson #5: Don’t buy new release models. Although the initial reviews of the G73JH were positive, in the months since I purchased this laptop the reviews have turned sour. There are HUNDREDS of people complaining that this gaming laptop cannot run games properly.  There are serious design issues with the ATI video board and how it plays with the Asus BIOS.   Asus blames ATI. ATI blames Asus.  The consumer is caught in the middle.  The bottom line is that graphics don’t render properly in many games.  Even when not gaming many video cards show what has become the infamous “gray screen of death” and the “psychedelic screen of death” (different colored striping on the monitor).    My laptop just suddenly decided not to communicate with the built-in LCD, what has become known as the “black screen of death”.    One laptop, less than a year in production, and so many creative new names all ending with *SOD.   Wonderful.     Problem is, this laptop is the first one Asus has put out on this platform. Clearly all the bugs are NOT worked out.  In fact it appears that Asus has already taken this model out of production (much like Sony did with the VGN-AR890U) and has released a similar G73JH-X5 model.  Guess they are hoping a new suffix will prevent all that bad feedback posted on the old model from following around their new platform.

Preventing Mistake #3

At this point I have realized that I know have to purchase a THIRD laptop to replace my new “bucket of fail” that has been delivered in the form of an Asus laptop.    It is obvious that Asus will not help me with preventing an interruption of work, so it is up to me to fend for myself before sending away the Asus for a service that will take “just a week”.  Even giving them the benefit of the doubt that they will not “pull a Servicenet”, a week is way too long to be unplugged as a computer consultant.  That leaves me on the hunt for a new laptop.    Below is a summary of the brands I’ve reviewed in light of what may be the most important lesson of all:

When buying a laptop that is your PRIMARY computer for daily business use
make certain you have NEXT DAY SERVICE or ADVANCED REPLACEMENT available.

While that lesson is fairly obvious to some, what I’ve found out is that many – in fact most – laptop manufacturers do NOT consider this an important feature.  In fact I found ONLY ONE manufacturer to provide viable warranty and support services if you simply cannot be offline for more than 48 hours.    Here are some of my findings and who I will be buying my next laptop from.   It may not have all the latest & greatest bells & whistles, but it WILL allow me to stay online and keep my business running without interruption.    I can sacrifice and inch or two of screen real estate and a few Hertz on my CPU cycles as a trade for getting back online quickly should something fail.    First, the systems I WON’T be buying:


That’s right.   For all the hype about how well built their products are, they are NOT flawless (Google iPhone 4 and the initial launch, Apple makes mistakes too).    While I do like Apple products in general, after all they are shiny and look cool, there are TWO main reasons I won’t be getting one this time around.   The first is price.  You pay a premium for SHINY not for advanced technologies.  You simply do not get what you pay for.  The second and BIGGER reason is that Apple does NOT provide advanced replacement or guaranteed 48-hour turnaround.   If you have a catastrophic failure on a laptop you have to pack it up, ship it out, wait for repair, and hope it comes back soon.   That is at least 4-days before you see this thing again, *if* they have the parts in stock.   Sorry, but for business use that is a deal breaker.


Consumer brand.  No good extended warranty support and NOTHING close to professional class customer service or support via their website or toll-free numbers.


Another consumer brand.  Again, no options to get advanced replacement.  Also their much-touted customer service is all based in India from what we can tell and that makes it very hit-or-miss on whether or not you get a qualified support person to assist.


If they have extended service or business service options they are nearly impossible to find via the website.  Also, the business class systems they offer which DO appear to have a premium level of support are LAME.   I guess business  users can’t possibly want anything over a 15″ screen or want to use it as a multimedia system after-hours.     Obviously HP thinks business laptops belong nowhere outside of the boardroom.


See HP.


Well, the lessons are pretty well spelled out in the case study above.   Also, they charge as much a premium as Apple… almost.   But you get much LESS service.  No local “Sony Store” around here, and even if there was they are clueless at those places.   At least Apple Store employees have a clue most of the time.  Also, no advanced replacement or 48-hour turnaround.    Sony, much like Apple, is a CONSUMER BRAND.   They are not geared toward business users.


Nope.  Good brand, but the ONLY offer extended warranties through Servicenet.   I’d rather have my head put in a vice and have it tightened slowly for 6 hours straight than deal with another Servicenet support call.   No WAY am I going with a company that only offers Servicenet support.

What Will I Buy?


That’s right, Dell.  The same company I stopped buying from 2 years ago because they could NEVER ship a system on time.  They also went through nearly 2 full years of ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE customer service when they outsourced nearly the entire operation to India.    Lately they’ve been cleaning up the mess.   The new Mexico-centric support center is MUCH BETTER at understanding and dealing with support issues.    They also seem to be getting better at at least estimating the delays in shipments BEFORE you buy.    Even though you may have to wait, at least it’s not “wait 10 days” then “wait 10 more days” then “wait another week”.    At least that is what I’ve been told from others in the industry.

More importantly, nearly EVERY high-end laptop and EVERY business laptop comes with NEXT DAY ON SITE SERVICE.   Most for just the first year, but ALL have a 3, 4, or even 5-year extension available.   That’s right, you debug the issue on the phone (to save a useless, “oh just press FN-F7? duh” trip) and if they determine it truly is a problem, a Dell representative will show up the NEXT DAY and fix your laptop.     They also offer damage protection and all the other goodies direct from Dell.   Sure, they may outsource all of that, but you still deal with Dell directly.

Do I know WHICH laptop I’m going to buy?   Nope.  But I can assure you it will not be their latest model.  In fact I’m leaning toward the Precision laptops that have been around for ages.  They even have REAL DOCKING STATIONS based on the same proprietary port that all Latitude & Precision laptops have had for years.     THOSE systems have real drivers that have been fully debugged and tested by thousands of users over the years.

So Dell, here I come.   I’m bringing my business back along with the $100,000 in annual purchases I make and/or recommend for myself and my clients.    Are you ready to do it right this time?   I am.